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Sailing Ships

Sea Cloud at SeaWant to be free as the wind? Think about cruising under sail, with towering masts, the creak of taut ropes and gleaming white sails to power you along

There is simply nothing that beats the thrill of being aboard a multi-mast tall ship, sailing under thousands of square feet of canvas through waters that mariners have sailed for centuries. This is cruising in the traditional manner, aboard authentic sailing ships, contemporary copies of clipper ships, or aboard high-tech cruise-sail ships.

There are no rigid schedules, and life aboard equates to an unstructured lifestyle, apart from meal times. Weather conditions may often dictate whether a scheduled port visit will be made or not, but passengers sailing on these vessels are usually unconcerned. They would rather savor the thrill of being one with nature, albeit in a comfortable, civilized setting, and without having to do the work themselves. The more luxurious sailing ships are the closest most people will get to owning their own mega-yacht.

Real Tall Ships
While we have all been dreaming of adventure, a pocketful of designers and yachtsmen committed pen to paper, hand in pocket and rigging to mast, and came up with a potpourri of stunning vessels to delight the eye and refresh the spirit. Examples are Royal Clipper, Sea Cloud, Sea Cloud II, Star Clipper, and Star Flyer.

Of these, Sea Cloud, built in 1931 and restored in 1979, is the most romantic sailing ship afloat. It operates under charter for much of the year, and sails in both the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. A kind of stately home afloat, Sea Cloud remains one of the finest and most exhilarating travel experiences in the world.

The activities are few, and so relaxation is the key, in a stylish but unpretentious setting. The food and service are good, as is the interaction between the 69 passengers and 60 crew, many of whom have worked aboard the ship for many years. One bonus is the fact that the doctor on board is available at no charge for emergencies or seasickness medication.

Although passengers may be able to participate occasionally in the furling and unfurling of the sails, they are not permitted to climb the rigging, as may be possible aboard some of the other, more modern tall ships.

Both Sea Cloud Cruises and Star Clippers are building new, real tall ships.

Contemporary Sail-Cruise ShipsWindstar Cruise Line
To combine sailing with push-button automation, try Club Med 2 (Club Mediterranée) or Wind Surf (Windstar Cruises) – with five tall aluminum masts, they are the world’s largest sail-cruise ships – and Wind Spirit and Wind Star (Windstar Cruises), with four masts. Not a hand touches the sails; they are computer-controlled from the navigation bridge.

There’s little sense of sailing in these oceangoing robots because the computer keeps the ship on an even keel. Also, some people find it hard to get used to the whine of the vessels’ generators, which run the lighting and air-conditioning systems 24 hours a day.
From a yachtsman’s viewpoint, the sail-to-power ratio is poor. That’s why these cruise ships with sails have engine power to get them into and out of port. The Star Clipper ships, by contrast, do it by sail alone, except when there is no wind, which doesn’t happen often.
On some itineraries, when there is little wind, you could be motor-powered for most of the cruise, with only a few hours under sail. The three Windstar Cruises vessels and one Club Med ship are typically under sail for about 40 percent of the time.

The Windstar ships carry mainly North Americans and the Club Med vessel mainly French-speakers.

Another slightly smaller but chic vessel is Le Ponant. This three-mast ship caters to just 64 French-speaking passengers in elegant, yet casual, high-tech surroundings, developing the original Windstar concept to an advanced state of contemporary technology. The ship made news in 2008 when its crew were held to ransom by pirates off the Somali coast; no passengers were on board at the time.

When The Engine Cuts In

So, do you get to cruise under sail most of the time? The answer is – not really. Aboard the ships of Sea Cloud Cruises and Star Clippers, because they are real tall ships, you could be under sail for most of the night when the ships are under way, as long as there is wind, of course, and on the days or part days at sea. The ship’s small engine is used for maneuvering in and out of port. In the Caribbean, for example, the trade winds are good for most of the year, while in the Mediterranean, the winds are not so potent. But the thrill for many passengers is getting involved and helping to furl and unfurl the sails, and being able to climb the rigging, and to lie in the netting under the bows – it’s a memorable experience.

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  Berlitz 2010 Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships

Berlitz Ocean Cruising & Cruise Ships 2009 by Douglas Ward © Apa Publications 2008-2009

Berlitz Trademarak Reg.US Patent Office and other countries. MarcaRegistrada. Property of Berlitz Investment corporation and used under license by Apa Publications GmbH & Co. Verlag KG, Singapore Branch

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